Cover image for The life of P.T. Barnum
The life of P.T. Barnum
Barnum, P. T. (Phineas Taylor), 1810-1891.
Publication Information:
Urbana : University of Illinois Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxxvii, 404 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Redfield, 1855.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1811.B3 A3 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



For more than fifty years, Phineas T. Barnum embodied all that was grand and fraudulent in American mass culture. Over the course of a life that spanned the nineteenth century (1810-91), he inflicted himself upon a surprisingly willing public in a variety of guises, from newspaper editor (or libeler) to traveling showman (or charlatan) and distinguished public benefactor (or shameless hypocrite). Barnum deliberately cultivated his ambiguous public image through a lifelong advertising campaign, shrewdly exploiting the cultural and technological capabilities of the new publishing industry. While running his numerous shows and exhibitions, Barnum managed to publish newspaper articles, exposés of fraud (not his own), self-help tracts, and a series of best-selling autobiographies, each promising to give "the true history of my many adventures." Updated editions of The Life of P. T. Barnum appeared regularly, allowing Barnum to keep up with demand and prune the narrative of details that might offend posterity. The present volume is the first modern edition of Barnum's original and outrageous autobiography, published in 1855 and unavailable for more than a century. Brazen, confessional, and immensely entertaining, it immortalizes the showman who hoodwinked customers into paying to hear the reminiscences of a woman presented as George Washington's 161-year-old nurse, the impresario who brought Jenny Lind to America and toured Europe with General Tom Thumb, and the grand entrepreneur of the American Museum of New York. Above all, it ensures that Barnum would be properly remembered . . . exactly as he created himself.

Table of Contents

Chapter I. My Early Historyp. 12
First Appearance
School Experience
John Haight
Breaking the Ice
A Debt Discharged
Living Statues
Dive, you Vagabond!
Speculation in Horns
The Biter Bit
The Horse and his Rider
The Crisis
John goes to Sea
A Naval Officer
Pennies and Sixpennies
Fish out of Water
First Visit to New-York
Adventures in the City
Speculation in Oranges
Guns and Torpedoes
Funds running low
My first Swop
Vast Supplies
Corporation Morals
End of the Bargain
Chapter II. Clerk in a Store--Anecdotesp. 28
Clerk in a Store
An Eye to Business
Jokers' Exchange
My Inheritance
Ivy Island
An Exploring Expedition
Among the Bogs
A Hornets' Nest
The Promised Land
Vanished Dreams
Diamond cut Diamond
Drunkard's Keg
Sense of Honor
The Dark Picture
Credit stopped
Tricks of Trade
Three in a Bed
Traps and Barricades
Battle of the Spurs
The Wrong Horse
Chapter III. Sunday-School--Old Meeting-Housep. 43
The Sunday-School
Eccentric Clergyman
A zealous Brother
Pumping a Witness
Awful Disclosures
Suspicious Circumstances
The Trial
The Climax
The Wedding Fee
Doctrinal Discussions
The Old Meeting-House
The Stove Reform
Power of Imagination
The Deacon's Appeal
The Bible-Class
The One Thing Needful
An Explosion
Chapter IV. Anecdotes with an Episodep. 55
My Grandfather's Voyage
A Stray Clergyman
The Beard Question
A Quandary
The Whiskers Doomed
The Razor Overboard
Indian File
Unique Procession
The Joke kept up
Christian's Death-bed
The Irishman's Dog
Clinching the Bargain
The Trick discovered
Mrs. O'Brien consoled
The Stage Agent
Dodging the Deacons
Stretching the Legs
Jehn's Consternation
A Dry Season
The Miller's Trial
The Verdict
Old Bob
Bob in the Bogs
The Rider afoot
A Slave for Life
Marking the Value
Chapter V. A Batch of Incidentsp. 74
An attractive Scheme
No Blanks
Small Prizes
Predecessors in Humbug
Cutting up Bacon
Out of Breath
An off Ox
White-faced Rum
A Pillar in the Church
A Fish Story
The Tables turned
Taking the Census
Quick Work
A Strange Name
Taking an Oath
Button Moulds
The Tin Peddler
Trading in Whetstones
The Difference
Materials for my Book
The Wood Chopper
Excitement increases
The wonderful Bean
A Joke foreclosed
Death of my Father
A Trade in Bottles
My Lottery
Bottles and Skimmers
Lots of Tin
Mysterious Stockings
Curious Coincidence
An Act of "Charity"
Queer Symptoms
Tit for Tat
Trade in Russia
Comedy of Errors
The Fun flies
The Explanation
Filling Rum Bottles
The Old Pensioners
The Duel
A Dead Shot
Chapter VI. Incidents and Various Schemesp. 106
A Toe-string
Spirit of Speculation
On my own Hook
Youthful Restlessness
Successful Experiment
Extending Business
Swearing out the Balance
Seeing the Elephant
Forcing a Settlement
The Speech Spoiled
My Maiden Plea
A Cheap Wedding
The Disappointed Squire
The Quack Dentist
Geese Feathers
The Love-Letter
Vinegar and Honey
Poetical Appeal
The Compromise
Extravagant Living
A Close Shave
Useful Information
Facts and Figures
The Lottery Mania
Plot and Counterplot
My Marriage
The Irish Peddler
The Mock Trial
Motion to Adjourn
A Real Lawyer
A Seattering Court
Judge Parsons
Religious Excitement
Sectarian Politics
The Herald of Freedom
The Libel Suit
In Jail
The Day of Jubilee
Balancing Accounts
Chapter VII. Struggling--Joice Heth--Vivallap. 142
Removal to New-York
Tempting Advertisements
Seeking Employment
Darrow and the Shirt
Missed a Figure
Joice Heth
My First Interview
Bill of Sale
I Purchase Joice
The Contract
Exhibition at Niblo's
Notices of the Press
Lawrie Todd
Ancient Hymns
Joice in Boston
Important Discovery
A Ludicrous Incident
Signor Vivalla
My Second Show
Washington City
Scene in the Senate
Anne Royall
A Tempest of Wrath
The Paul Pry
Proposed Speculation
Pawning my Watch
The Challenge
A Crotchet
Private Interview
Great Excitement
Trial of Skill
The Moral
Death of Joice
Post-Mortem Examination
A Statement
Lyman's Hoax
Newspaper Controversy
False History
My Object
Chapter VIII. The Travelling Circusp. 177
Our First Performance
Incident in Church
Old Turner
A Disagreeable Joke
Tar and Feathers
The Wrong Customer
Fast Board
A Crammed Company
Arithmetical Puzzles
Sorrowful Parting
Speech in a Grove
Serious Reflections
The Dead-head Sheriff
Sharp Dodging
Conspiracy Defeated
Contracted Quarters
A Perilous Journey
Vivalla and the Indian
Courage oozed out
The Egg Trick
A Discomfited Juggler
Yankee Munchausen
The Mysterious Boots
A Long Nap
Living Mummies
My Uncle's Number
Legs by the Bushel
Bad Luck
A Friend in Need
A Hasty Wedding
A Sudden Departure
Advertising for a Pariner
Curious Propositions
A new Business
Remnants of my Capital
A Batch of Recipes
A Showman again
Recollections of my Tour
A Mock Diamond
In Jail again
Chapter IX. The American Museump. 214
New Enterprises
Foot of the Ladder
Strong Resolutions
The American Museum
A Bold Attempt
An Interview
Ivy Island again
A Repulse
The Shots take Effect
Stratagem Foiled
The Victory
Neck or Nothing
Museum Improvements
Humbug and Reality
Niagara in the Museum
Taxed for a Cataract
The Falls in Full Flow
Caught by an Editor
The Captain Cook Club
My Laurels in Danger
The Hoaxer Hoaxed
The Fejee Mermaid
Puzzle for Naturalists
Professor Griffin
Ways and Means
An Ingenious Work
Siebold's Explanation
Grand Announcement
The Old Dutchman
A Sight of the "Mare-Maid"
Mermaid and Cigar
The Professor Nonplussed
Striking the Flag
Receipts in Contrast
Profitable Opposition
Gen. Tom Thumb
A Frank Confession
Chapter X. European Tour--Tom Thumbp. 246
Embarkation for England
Farewell Thoughts
The Tobacco Trick
Courtesy for a Fee
A Yankee Guide
Gloomy Prospects
Gleam of Sunshine
Value of Dwarfs
The London Manager
Nobility Excluded
Mr. Everett
Visit at Rothschild's
Golden Showers
Lessons in Etiquette
Tom Thumb before the Queen
Backing Out
Tom and the Poodle
The Prince of Wales
Royalty and Yankee Doodle
Fashionable Popularity
The Queen Dowager
The Iron Duke and Bonaparte
The Emperor Nicholas
Review at Windsor
Louis Philippe
Royal Industry
Field of Waterloo
Deceased Military Friends
An unexpected Smash
Custom of the Country
A Soaker
Barber-ous Proceedings
Brummagem Relies
Worth makes the Man
Golden Calves
A Day with Albert Smith
Who is Shakspeare?
Guy of Warwick
A Flock of Showmen
A Great Day's Work
Yankee Curiosity
A Lucky Pile
An American Prince
Suspicious Sausages
Aneedote of Franklin
Electric Glory
Distinguished Americans
The General at Home
Twenty-five Cents' Worth
Tour in the United States
The General in Cuba
Raising Turkeys
Chapter XI. The Jenny Lind Enterprisep. 296
An Agent to Europe
Terms of Engagement
The Contract
A Surprise
The Agreement ratified
A Cheap Picture
Preparing the Way
First Meeting with Jenny
The Landing
Water versus Wine
A new Proposition
Jenny's Benevolence
The First Concert
Enthusiastic Reception
Petty Annoyances
The Press
An Affecting Incident
A Ruse
Power of Imagination
President Fillmore
Messrs. Clay, Cass, Webster, and Benton
Washington's Grave
Shaking Hands
Extempore Waiter
Christmas Tree
Solemn Moments
Jenny in Havana
A Triumph
Vivalla and his Dog
The Prodigy
Up the Mississippi
The Mystified Barber
The Hermitage
April Fool
Another Ruse
Humbugged after all
Useless Revolvers
The Engagement closed
Jenny's Marriage
Charity Concerts
Price of Tickets
Total Receipts of Concerts
Jenny Lind's Receipts
Chapter XII. "Side Shows"--Buffalo Hunt, Etc.p. 344
Moving Shakspeare's House
Swiss Bell Ringers
Various Enterprises
Philadelphia Museum
Travelling Menagerie
The Woolly Horse
Fremont's Nondescript
His Last Kick
The Herd of Buffaloes
A Free Exhibition
Buffalo Hunt
Pleased with Humbug
Circumstances alter Cases
Monkey and Gander Skins
Chapter XIII. Temperance and Agriculturep. 359
My Temperance Movements
An Inextricable Dilemma
My Conversion
The Maine Law
Temperance Lectures
A Question answered
Cold Victuals
A Man without Friends
Gratifying Incident
Temperance Tract
Small Potatoes
Grafts and Suckers
Indigestible Food
Importance of Agriculture
Labor and Taste
The Merchant
Astounding Facts
Pickpocket on Show
In the same Trap
Taking in a Passenger
The Wrong Barnum
Farming Stock
The Game-keeper
Chapter XIV. Sundry Business Enterprisesp. 379
Fire Annihilator
Pequonnock Bank
Illustrated News
New-York Crystal Palace
Copper Mines
Begging Letters
My Agents
Rules for Making a Fortune
Retrospective View
"Home, Sweet Home!"